A few years ago when I decided to write another of my books, titled Forgotten Legends of the Ring – it was a time of discovery for me since I was really for the first time delving into the rich history of boxing. As I was concluding the book and writing about the last fighter I would enter into the book I came across a man by the name of Ezzard Charles. I immediately regretted not adding him to the book and told myself if I write another series to Forgotten Legends of the Ring, then Charles would be the first name in the book. There were a few others I would have liked to have written about, Sam Langford, Harry Greb to name but two but in a sense I was still happy with my choices – because you could write about countless fighters from such a long time ago but I wanted my book to include fighters who had fought not so long ago too. That is why I included fighters from the 1980’s such as Mike McCallum and from the 1990’s Riddick Bowe. There were also others such as George Benton, Nicolino Locche, Wilfred Benitez and Bob Foster who fought in the 60’s, 70’s and/or the 80’s.
So why Ezzard Charles? A reason why was the first fighter I entered into the book was the almost mythical and enigmatic Charley Burley – I noted that he suffered losses to Charles…also in the book was Archie Moore, another all time great and yet again he had lost also to Ezzard Charles…
Charles has been one of those fighters who has flown under the radar and I believe there are a few reasons for this, all of them not his fault which is a huge shame because as we are about to find out, Charles was a boxer of the highest calibre. Firstly let’s look at the heavyweight reign – Charles would become the heavyweight champion of the world but unfortunately for him his reign followed the career of Joe Louis. Louis was a hugely popular fighter and by the time he retired for the first time, was firmly established as the greatest heavyweight of all time. Not to mention he was a cultural icon amongst black America that it was almost impossible to fill his shoes. Much like Larry Holmes following Muhammad Ali. Ali was bigger than boxing and left a huge void in the sport and following a man of his charisma just wasn’t possible and as such, Holmes like Charles, had a hard act to follow and would never truly be appreciated for how good they were. I had both Holmes and Charles in my video on underappreciated great boxers.
Now Charles won the heavyweight crown by defeating another great of the sport, Jersey Joe Walcott and the pair would battle four times, Charles winning the first two and Walcott winning the second half. Amongst Charles wins at heavyweight was also an out of retirement Joe Louis. Although Charles dominated it is fair to say Louis was well past his prime and a shadow of his former self, I believe Louis was 36yrs old at the time of their bout in 1950 and it was his first fight since retiring in 1948. Again we can draw the comparisons with Ali and Larry Holmes. Holmes followed Ali and just like Charles following Louis, Holmes would also beat an out of retirement and ageing Ali, it is almost as if beating those legends was held against them.
There is also the small matter of the iconic knockout – Charles was knocked out by Jersey Joe Walcott with one of the smoothest punches and moves you could ever hope to see. Similarly Charles was also knocked out brutally by Rocky Marciano and unfortunately those knockouts, especially the Walcott knockout have stuck in the minds of boxing historians and hardcore fans. Now of course this is a little unfair to Charles, he arguably won the last fight with Walcott so could have quite easily have won 3 of 4 there and he is also the only man to go 15 rounds with Marciano and again he believed he had a case to have won that fight too but sadly it never went his way. Charles was never the same after his back to back battles with Marciano, from a record of 83-10 he would retire with a final record of 93 wins with 25 losses. Despite all of this Charles was still a heavyweight great but what makes it all the more impressive is…
Ezzard Charles was not a natural heavyweight. The reason he had to compete at heavyweight was two fold, number one was obviously better money but number two was that he was being denied a shot at the light heavyweight title. Back in those times there was no Cruiserweight division which meant the 175lb 6ft Charles had to compete against naturally bigger and stronger men and blow himself up in the 180’s to compete – yet he still became world champion at heavyweight, this is a testament to the amount of boxing skill he possessed. Charles is often cited as the greatest light heavyweight of all time, certainly it is between him and Archie Moore. No one wanted to fight Charles at Light Heavyweight not least the champion of the time Gus Lesnevich – whom Charles would later defeat as a heavyweight. Charles also defeated Archie Moore 3 times in the 1940’s during a span in which he lost just once between the years of 1943-1951. The sole loss was to a heavyweight named ‘Violent’ Elmer Ray who was known for his punching power, yet Charles would bounce back and knock out the much bigger, heavier and taller 6’2 heavyweight Elmer Ray to avenge his loss.
Not only was Charles great at heavyweight, arguably the best ever at light heavyweight but he started out in the pro ranks as a teenage middleweight. Even more astonishing is that before his 21st birthday he had already fought the great Charley Burley twice and each time Charles had won the fight on points. Not long later the young Charles would fight against more greats such as Jimmy Bivins and also another of the black murderers row fighters, Lloyd Marshall. Despite suffering losses to Bivins and Marshall at such an early stage of his career, he would later avenge the losses to both of those men. What we are seeing here is a man who was great in every division he competed in, middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. This proves that Ezzard Charles was one of the greatest fighters of all time.
Nicknamed the Cincinnati Cobra, Charles was a slick fighter who possessed excellent boxing skills, a thunderous punch and sharp boxing IQ. Naturally if you start out at middleweight and then compete as a heavyweight you will not punch as hard as a natural heavy handed heavyweight but at middleweight and light heavyweight Charles was a dangerous puncher and this was unfortunately proved true when an opponent of his – Sam Baroudi would die of his injuries sustained in a fight against Charles. After the death of Baroudi, the deeply remorseful Charles was said to have struggled to channel the same instinct and finishing prowess in his future bouts. Looking back on his fights against the likes of Pat Valentino and Bob Satterfield you can clearly see that Charles was a sharp and clean puncher with great power, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with a better 3,2 combination that Charles – that is the lead hook followed by the rear cross.
Ezzard Charles is also the inspiration behind fighters such as James Toney. James Toney was trained by Bill Miller and Miller was a close friend of Ezzard Charles. Toney, who is one of the greatest fighters in recent times, fashioned his fighting style on the likes of Ezzard Charles, watching hour after hour of Charles fighting and studying the nuances of Charles alongside his coach Bill Miller. Charles himself was trained by one of the all time great trainers, Ray Arcel. Charles was supposedly inspired by a chance meeting with the great boxer Kid Chocolate, who had stopped in the neighbourhood of the young Charles, at the time just a small boy and Charles was so mesmerized by Kid Chocolate’s vehicle and fashion sense, he made a vow that one day he too would have the money to buy clothes just like Kid Chocolate. Chocolate was the first world champion from Cuba and was known to be one of the inspirations of Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer most widely regarded as the greatest of all time.
Ezzard Charles is without doubt a forgotten legend of the ring and one of the best ever to lace them up, here are a few short videos I have made on the man which demonstrate what a class boxer he was.
Boxing Coach Strength and Conditioning Coach Boxing Author of: The Boxing Cheat Sheet - Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Survival Strength and Conditioning for Boxing - Work out Hits to get you Fighting Fit! Forgotten Legends of the Ring - Ten Past Masters of the Squared Circle *Any videos or images used on this site to support my articles that are copyrighted are used for educational purposes and in accordance to the fair use act and are not my own - all credit is due to the respective owners. No copyright infringement intended.
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